Ogdensburg Diocese pays $5.49 million to 37 victims; Bishop to consider releasing names of abusers
OGDENSBURG – The Ogdensburg Diocese has paid 37 victims a total of $5.49 million in compensations, according to a release issued Tuesday.
In 70 years, 72 credible claims against 27 priests, including 11 repeat offenders, were received, according to a statement from the diocese.In March, the Diocese of Ogdensburg launched the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP), part of an ongoing effort to express contrition to those who suffered sexual abuse by diocesan clergy.
Bishop Terry LaValley instituted the IRCP, motivated in part by the successful IRCP programs undertaken by other dioceses in New York State.
“Throughout the process, claimants made clear they were not interested in money alone but, were grateful that the Church reached out to them, listened to them, and expressed sorrow and understanding. We pray this program brings some measure of peace and consolation to the victims. We are happy that many have indicated that their healing has been aided by our outreach to them in the IRCP,” he said.
LaValley also said the longstanding decisions by the bishops of the Diocese of Ogdensburg not to reveal the names of clerics who have been accused of sexual misconduct must be reconsidered.
According to LaValley the Diocese did not fully grasp the extent of the abuse that occurred over the last 70 years.
“As of this writing, our diocese over the last 70 years has received approximately 72 credible claims of sexual abuse of a minor by a member of our clergy which involved twenty-seven priests, including the claims handled by the IRCP. Ten of these claims were resolved outside of the IRCP process for an aggregate amount of approximately $750,000.00. In eleven cases not submitted to the IRCP, the claimants had died or were unable to be found,” he said.
According to LaValley 38 credible claims were submitted to the independent administrator at the start of the IRCP.
“During the course of the IRCP, eleven additional credible claims were brought forward in the program. Of these forty-nine credible claims, thirty-nine participated in the IRCP. Six of the claimants could not be located, two declined to submit a claim, and two had died,” LaValley said.
He said of the priests who had credible allegations brought against them in relation to the claims in the IRCP, eleven were repeat offenders. The incidents of abuse occurred over a period of seventy-five years, with some claims dating to the 1940s.
The fact that no incidents of abuse were reported to have occurred in the last twenty years gives us hope that the safe environment efforts we have undertaken are effective. Despite the justifiable anger aimed at the Church at the present time, it’s important to acknowledge that we have made much progress in providing a safe environment for our children and vulnerable adults,” he said.
The Diocese of Ogdensburg has consistently reached out to victims of sexual abuse and offered them assistance and support. Through the years, the Diocese has offered counseling and other types of support and assistance to victims who have come forward. With the IRCP, the Diocese has offered financial compensation in response to what these victims, who as minors or vulnerable adults, had been victimized by Church leaders,” LaValley said.
“We are saddened that there were repeat offenders. Our files reveal that the protocols in place for dealing with abuse in the past were not effective and are not acceptable today. Our records show a common protocol that was followed with tragic effects. The abuser would be arrested or the matter would be reported to a diocesan official. To avoid scandal and spare the victims from giving grueling testimony, where police agencies were involved plea deals were reached with the approval of law enforcement agencies, judges or district attorneys. When no law enforcement agency was involved, the matter was handled quietly by the diocese and parents or guardians of the victim to avoid putting the victim through the legal process. The accused was sent for counseling, and upon receiving a recommendation from mental health professionals that there was no danger to others, the bishop would reassign the offender to another assignment. Although this protocol was done in good faith and with good intentions, these tragic decisions allowed the abuse of other victims in many cases,” LaValley said.
“The protocols for handling abuse cases in past decades, not only for the Catholic Church but for other public and private employees, emphasized secrecy to protect victims and avoid scandal and embarrassment. It was believed that the stigma of being a victim of sexual abuse was a harsh one for the victims to bear. Testifying in court about sexual abuse was thought to be a hard burden for victims and the general practice seems to have been to avoid such burden at all costs. This past protocol assumed that the abuser could be rehabilitated and returned to gainful employment. Advances in the areas of psychiatry and counseling have taught us that those assumptions are not valid. Such procedures for handling sex abuse cases were terribly wrong based on what we know today. The majority of the individuals involved in making those decisions under that old protocol are deceased.”
LaValley says the Diocese of Ogdensburg has also implemented comprehensive policies and programs for child protection and safety in all of our parishes, schools and programs.
“Each year, we are audited by an independent auditing firm to make sure we are in compliance with the Charter. We have been found to be consistently compliant with the Charter in each audit. Our Director of Safe Environment conducts periodic inspections of our parishes and schools to make certain they know and are adhering to our safe environment policies. The Director of Safe Environment assures that all clergy, seminarians, employees and required volunteers receive safe environment training and undergo a background check,” he said.